By Anna Flagg
The upcoming indie film “Sironia” will make its debut at the Austin Film Festival on Friday night. The film, set in Waco, is deeply rooted in dreams both fulfilled and lost.
Inspired by the music and life of singer-songwriter Wes Cunningham, “Sironia” is the story of talented musician Thomas Fisher,frustrated by his Hollywood career. Thomas and his wife, Molly, decide to move to small town Sironia, Texas, to find a better life. There, Thomas struggles to find contentment and peace with his lost career, forced to choose what to hold on to and what to let go.
The cast includes Cunningham, Amy Acker from the WB’s “Angel,” Tony Hale, of “Arrested Development” and “Chuck,” and Robyn Lively, of “Savannah.”
Laura Smith, Lauren Schwartz and Steven Sills produced “Sironia.”
More than half of the film is shot in Waco, a place familiar to its three writers: Cunningham, Thomas Ward, and Brandon Dickerson, who is also directing the movie.
Cunningham and Dickerson attended Baylor together and many of the songs used in the film were written in Waco.
Ward is a professor in the theatre arts department.
Viewers will see familiar Waco places in the film, such as Katie’s Frozen Custard, Common Grounds, the suspension bridge, George’s Restaurant and the Baylor campus.
“You write what you know, and we know Waco, so it worked,” Ward said.
The idea for Sironia came to the writers two years ago over coffee at Café Cappuccino.
When Dickerson’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, his family moved to Waco. In Texas, Dickerson joined Cunningham, a musician who had recently moved to Waco after a stint in Los Angeles. Cunningham then introduced Dickerson to Ward. Over coffee, the three instantly connected over music, acting and film. Dickerson and Ward bragged on Cunningham’s music and talked about how visual his lyrics are.
“Thomas said that we should write a stageplay,” Dickerson said. “I said, ‘Forget that. Let’s write a script.’ By the end of that first breakfast, our movie was in the making.”
Dickerson and Ward encouraged Cunningham to make two musical playlists, one about conflict and one about resolution.
“Wes has a nice cavalier of music, and some of it is dark and some of it is celebratory,” Ward said. “And that’s what we wanted for our story. Challenges and conflict, but also redemption.”
Dickerson said that Cunningham’s music is the backbone of the film and that it goes further than “inspired by a true story.”
“In many ways, Wes had been writing ‘Sironia’ for years,” Dickerson said. “Using the stories Wes had already been writing through his music, we crafted a story that is both unique and genuine.”
The film deals with the idea of finding contentment no matter the circumstance, and how to react when dreams go unrealized. Dickerson said it is a narrative that can resonate with people personally.
“The movie asks a compelling question about which dream you live for,” Cunningham said. “We all have to prioritize in our life, and the other writers and I have talked a lot about how we wrote a move that is a real challenge to live.”
When it came time to cast for the movie, Cunningham was interested, but the directors decided from the beginning to choose the best fit for the role of the main character, Thomas.
Cunningham fought for the role and had to prove himself because there were a lot of talented men who auditioned for the role alongside him.
“There was a lot of talent, but most of the men who tried out for the role lacked the authenticity that we wanted,” Dickerson said. “Despite never having done a film, Wes has that rare raw talent.”
Cunningham worked with acting coaches to improve technicalities and fulfill the role.
“Brandon took a huge risk in casting me, and he staked the movie on it,” Cunningham said. “Acting, for me, is absolutely thrilling, and I really didn’t expect it. Brandon really stuck his neck out for me in a big way, and I am very grateful.”
Baylor was also involved in the filmmaking. The writers were pleased to get the privilege to film on campus. There was also an internship program in the film department for about 30 students to help out with the film.
Funding for the movie came from Gary and Diane Heavins, a Waco family, much faster than Dickerson expected and the writers were extremely grateful.
“I had been in California for 15 years trying to make movies, and when I moved to Waco everyone told me it was career suicide,” Dickerson said. “After all of those years in L.A., who knew I would be making a movie in Waco within the first year I moved?”
The film will premiere at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Rollins Theatre in the Long Center in Austin. Following the film, there will be a Q&A with the filmmakers and cast.